What to Do in the Face of Negative Social Media

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Social media has already become a cornerstone of daily life for consumers and business leaders around the world. According to Hubspot’s 2021 Marketing Statistics, 80% of CEOs use information available on social media to make decisions on business partnerships. As a small business owner, social media can feel a lot like the wild west. It seems like every week we hear about another business that has fallen victim to boycotts or highly public whistleblowing. It’s enough to reconsider being part of the conversation online altogether. But there are ways you can prepare now to protect your business from online discourse spinning out of control. 

We’ve reached out to an expert in business protection, Lead Consultant and President of InvigorateHR Jeremy York. He’s been working in human resources for more than 20 years, and he believes that the key to building success is putting strategies in place that let your people succeed. As such, we’re working to build a social media strategy centered around what to do when social media goes wrong so that you can capture that 80% of business leaders while protecting your business and your people. Here’s how: 

How You Can Prepare Now

“Having any type of social media presence should be well thought out and planned,” York said. “It is important to have policies and procedures for internal use and have a well-orchestrated social media strategy that is more than scheduling posts to follow.” 

Negative social media coverage can be a fast-paced experience, so having a well thought out plan of action that helps meet your business objectives is key to responding quickly in a way that is in line with your brand: 

  • Write a policy and procedure for current employees on social media use that falls within employee rights as outlined by the National Labor Relations Act to maintain legal compliance while providing guidelines for employees to represent your business online. 
  • Make a targeted list of audiences that may interact with your social media and analyze the potential peaks and pitfalls of their interactions with your brand. Here’s an example of what that may look like: 
    • Existing Clients – Positive and Negative reviews. Service Complaints.
    • Competitors – Stronger business partnerships. Undercutting business practices. 
    • Potential Clients – Opportunities to convert. Negative brand experience before conversion.
    • Employees – Pride and development in the workplace. Disgruntled employee posts. 
  • Create a first steps guide that gives your team immediate response to common negative social media posts that falls in line with your business’ social media goals and your brand’s voice. More on this below.
  • Determine a path of escalation for each target audience your social media will serve so that high-intensity posts can be responded to quickly by an expert that typically interacts with these audiences on a daily basis. 

These simple plans can make your business feel more prepared in the case of a public incident like a whistleblower on social media and help your team move quickly to solve smaller everyday frictions like customer complaints. 

What to Do When Haters Appear on Social Media

“Get out in front of the issue,” York said. “Create an action plan and address it accordingly before the situation blows up into a larger problem than it needs to be.” 

Step One: Determine the Validity of the Post

You should take every negative response online seriously, but before making any public statement or silencing the hater by blocking them, do some quick research to see if they have valid reasons for being upset. This may be possible with internal research alone, or it may serve you to reach out to the poster through direct messages. 

Another great tact to buy yourself a little time is to reply to the post saying you’re looking into it and would like their help with an offer to directly message your social platforms to get to the bottom of it. This will assure followers that you are taking concerns seriously.

Step Two: Know What to Avoid

Like in any high-tension conversation, there are some things you want to avoid in social media discourse when addressing a hater: 

  • Disproving Debates – Avoid publicly trying to disprove the accuser with a back-and-forth argument. It doesn’t look professional. Instead, offer solutions. 
  • Taking Things Personally – It’s natural to feel defensive and emotional when it comes to your business, but it’s best to come at these situations when you’re feeling clear-headed and ready to help. 9 times out of 10, the negative posters will back down so long as you refrain from debate discourse. 
  • Public Posts – Avoid responding on your own page unless absolutely necessary. This will draw in eyes more quickly than replies, comments, direct messages or ignoring it. 
  • Laughing It Off – Some B2C companies get great public responses from a little sarcasm, snark or humor when it has been built into their brand identity, but it’s important to know when to cut it off. No matter what, if they post upset again, it’s time to respond sensitively. 

Step Three: Respond According to Your Action Plan

Your reaction has the power to quickly end an altercation, improve your brand perception or cause harm, and each should be handled individually based upon your initial research. However, there are some general rules of thumb that can help you draft a response quickly: 

  • No Response – If a user leaves an especially vague comment with no details to give you a sense of what their bad interaction with your business entailed and has no prior history of interacting with your social media, a non-response may work best. Without giving details on how you can help, it may be best to not bring attention to the situation. That user may simply be having a bad day!
  • Connect with Customer Service – This is a good middle ground to apply to most situations. It takes the conversation off social media and allows them to seek solutions with the employees who have experience handling sensitive client interactions.
  • Direct Message – Reaching out to the user via a direct message can give you a more private space to address their concerns. This can even look like having a conversation offline if the poster can be tracked back to someone closely tied to the company. Moving to another channel is a great response for situations that feel more sensitive in nature that can draw eyes quickly, and it feels more personable than a referral to customer service. You can even reply to their initial post saying you’re going to reach out directly so it is visible to other users that you are taking action without putting out a statement on your own page.
  • Public Post – This is a more extreme level of response to haters online and should only be utilized when either all other response methods have failed or many users are piling on with similar experiences. This is the most public option when it comes to negative social media interactions and should be treated similarly to a micro press conference in that it is a serious response with high impact. Writing a new post on your company’s public social media page to respond to feedback should be uncommon, sensitively-worded, and within 24 hours to head off more public outcry. 

How to Move Forward

“You don’t want a few haters to interrupt your social media strategy that supports marketing and branding initiatives,” York said. “So long as the content is appropriate, it’s important to keep regularly scheduled posts rolling even if there are negative responses.” 

Like Jeremy said, unless your brand experiences a red-alert level of social media outrage, you should keep posting your regularly scheduled content. If you do have a negative social media experience that leads to a necessary public post, first check your scheduled content to make sure there’s nothing that will exacerbate the situation. 

If necessary, reconsider breaks from posting each 24 hours until it feels appropriate again. You don’t want to back away for too long and allow the public’s imagination to fill in the gaps of what you’re not saying. And even if you do keep distance from posting on your profile, it is still a good idea to continue responding to customers’ comments and mentions to your brand profile to continue to encourage social media engagement.

This may all sound like a difficult and stressful situation, but having a plan in place will give your team the tools they need to act quickly to reduce the impact of negative social media posts with your brand at the center of their responses. Participating in the conversation online gives your business a seat at the table to influence public opinion. Though it is likely that in years of social media participation you will receive negative comments, the vast majority of your work on these platforms will be to grow your audience, engage with them thoughtfully, and even have a bit of fun. In the end, it’s worth it.

Thank you again to Jeremy York of InvigorateHR for his strategic mind and insights on how to build a social media plan for when things go wrong!